I so wanted to love Pompidou. I so wanted to relish the comeback of Matt Lucas, a lively and talented comedian who has returned to the spotlight with the ballsy idea of doing a silent comedy about a penniless aristo, his butler Hove and their Afghan Hound Marion who find themselves living in a caravan.
But like Marion – who we first see reading a book called Your Twig: How to Fetch It – this is a strange beast. Lucas’ Pompidou is a latter-day Mr Toad who has fallen on hard times. He’s not silent but his mumbles are unintelligible, apart from a grumbled “good afternoon”. He is selfish, vain, venal and oddly childlike. I think he’d like me to add “appealing” but I can’t.
Perhaps the clue is in the title. I have never before come across a BBC programme that feels more designed for the French market than for us Brits who actually pay the licence fee. The French love a good mime. Perhaps the BBC thinks it can sell this programme around the world. It worked with Mr Bean who is hugely popular across the channel and much further afield. Sadly this is no Mr Bean. Or Laurel and Hardy. Or Jacques Tati.
Here’s a sample scene. Pompidou finds himself trying to fish beside a lake, annoying Coronation Street’s Roy Barraclough (some sort of neighbour?) who is seated next to him. Then Pompidou’s butler Hove (Alex MacQueen of The Thick of It fame) gets pushed into the water. I could see that drenching coming a mile off.
Hove then accidentally swallows a fish – presumably a tribute to Mr Bean’s leaky goldfish misadventure – leading to a prolonged set of scenes in a hospital where the hungry Pompidou pretends to be a patient to get a meal, but is persistently thwarted by doctor who points to a nil by mouth sign. And that, sort of, is that.
Lucas acts his heart out but Marion the dog (a fabulously designed puppet who can pull some brilliant faces) is probably the funniest thing in it. Closely followed by the theme tune as the credits roll.
We should at least commend the BBC for attempting a rare foray into family comedy – maybe kids will find it hysterical – and for the boldness of its commissioning. It certainly demonstrates supreme faith in Lucas. After all, there can’t have been much of a script.
I am not sure that faith has been repaid but comedy – perhaps more than any genre – is a highly personal thing. This may be hailed as a series of great genius. You may be falling off your seat in stitches. My colleague Jack Seale enjoyed it. You may too.
But for me, Pompidou was brave, diverting but ultimately baffling.
Pompidou begins on Saturday March 1st on BBC2 at 6.30pm
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